It all started as a child growing up on top of the Lincolnshire Wolds with a family that loved horses. Learning to ride at an early age has helped me establish the skills and now experience that have helped me in my quest to become a trainer.
My first real taste of horse racing came as a 14 year old carrying out work experience for Michael Chapman who trained in Market Rasen between my school and the racecourse. There I learnt a lot from former NH jockey Billy Worthington who retired after suffering a career-ending fall, which puts the dangers of the sport into perspective. There I met Duran Fentiman who has gone on to fulfil his dream in becoming a professional flat jockey. We went to the same school and enjoyed learning to ride racehorses in the shadow of our local racecourse.
My first taste of race riding came on the July course in Newmarket riding in the Newmarket Town Plate at the age of 16. I was riding a horse called Lammoski, which I purchased from Chapman. He was by Hamas, a former July Cup winner, and his form read 0-44 so the prospect of the 3 mile 6 furlong trip was slightly worrying. We finished a worthy mid div.
When I finished my GCSE’s I didn’t know what to do like most 16 year olds. I wanted to become a NH jockey but was already fighting with the scales. My parents persuaded (forced) me to stay on at school for Sixth Form. I ended up getting the best of both worlds though. For my summer holidays I would head up to Middleham to work for Ferdy Murphy, where I learnt a lot about the world of horse racing and its extra curricular activities and when back in Lincolnshire I trained by sprint bread maiden 6-year-old gelding Lammoski to run in point-to-point. At this stage in my life I had my heart firmly set on becoming a trainer. I also rode out for numerous local point trainers so as you can imagine there wasn’t much time for schoolwork. Lammoski went on to triumph in two points so obviously no one told him whom his father was.
After leaving school with grades higher than expected (my teacher was a gambling man) I got a job riding out for James Given who trains down the road. At the time he had over 100 horses. Summitville had just finished third in the Oaks and Hugs Dancer won the Ebor, I loved this job! In the off season the pointing was going ok although the form of my rides would read words rather than show numbers. It was about 12 years ago when I met David Todd and his daughter Louise. Unfortunately Mr Todd passed away recently. He played a big part in my life.
At a weight of 11 stone at 18, my ambition to become a jump jockey was, well, lets say distant. Mr Todd believed in my and persuaded Malcolm Jefferson, who he’d had horses with for years, to take me on as an amateur, so my first stint working for James Given came to an end and I headed up to Yorkshire. In my first season I was able to manage my weight well enough to make use of my 7lb claim and I steered 3 winners home from seven rides. After being persuaded to turn Conditional, I managed to notch up a few more winners before the struggle with weight meant I was losing rides to my competition James Halliday. So I decided to change yards to David Chapman. David and his granddaughter Ruth Carr where very good to me and allowed me to ride for other trainers whilst being employed by them.
After a couple more years I decided to hang up my boots, which I was struggling to get over my calves. I decided to head back to Lincolnshire to train point-to-pointers in my quest to gain enough experience to be granted a training license. I knew it was going to be a struggle and that the best way of getting a license was to gain experience by becoming an assistant trainer in a well recognised yard, but his didn’t appeal to me at the time. I was also back riding out for James Given in the mornings and then exercising the pointers in the afternoons. I was riding some nice horses at James’s. Dandino and Indian Days were flying the flag for the yard and I would exercise them most mornings. Things were going well and I was settled in to my new venture, or so I thought.
My main objective was making sure my four horses at home where heading in the right direction ready for pointing in the spring so when James mentioned a possible autumn campaign abroad for his two stable stars and me accompanying them I didn’t know what to do. Originally I said no but was later talked in to it by a number of people. I was acting as his travelling assistant, which looked great on my CV, and I hoped would help me in gaining my training license.
First stop was Turkey and the glorious city of Istanbul. Indian Days was entered in the Group 2 Bosphorus Cup along with a number of other British trained raiders. Our flight from Stanstead was delayed because of a cargo plane, which was apparently more important than livestock. We eventually got to Istanbul where I met up with Andy who looked after the horse at home. The track and facilities were excellent, far better than I expected. Indian Days went off the outsider in the race but because of a ferocious early pace set by the local horses, Alan Munro was able to make best use of his stamina and he powered clear off the field to win comfortably. We had a great night celebrating in a nightclub under the Bosphorus Bridge where I was rubbing shoulders with some inspirational people in our great sport, I could get use to this! On the flight home I was invited in to the cockpit by the pilots where I was offered a cigarette and a shot of the local tipple Raki, I politely declined and spent the next 3 hours prying we got home alive, I won’t mention the airline.
Later in the autumn Indian days had a Group 2 entry at San Siro in Milan, Italy. Unfortunately they had a lot of rain the night before so he couldn’t give his best and finished sixth. Back home the pointers where coming along nicely but the weather was closing in. Now James had mentioned a possible venture to the Far East in the summer but I thought nothing of it at the time, so when the plans became reality I panicked. I would mean leaving my pointers in the capable hands of my sister Amelia, which was ok, but I was dedicated so it was hard to do. As it turned out the weather of November/ December 2010 shut everything the country down including training the pointers.
We got out as the snow started heading to Tokyo via Amsterdam with Dandino who was running in the Japan Cup. Wow what a trip, Japan was amazing. We went in to quarantine for a week before heading with the other global competitors to the racecourse. Here I met Lynsey Hanna whilst trying to work the washing machine, who was traveling with the Ed Dunlop trained Snow Fairy who on top of her English/ Irish Oaks Double, had just won the QEII in Kyoto and the million pound bonus. Lynsey was an ex flat jockey who rode over 20 winners. We got on well and her being Northern Irish didn’t put me off. Dandino was a lovely horse, the type that you look for at the Tattersalls book 1 sales. He ran well but the way the Japanese run their races caught him out and he did his best work late on. The experience was unforgettable, this was an addiction, just when I though the sport I love couldn’t get any better it did just that. Lynsey and Snow Fairy were heading to Hong Kong for the Cup and I thought I wouldn’t see her again. The day we were heading back to the UK, James told me Indian Days had been handed a place in the Hong Kong Vase, happy was an understatement.
Instead of heading straight to Hong Kong, because of logistical issues I got there via Amsterdam and Britain. The Snow was unreal which didn’t help with the travel. After three days of traveling I finally got to Hong Kong where Andy and Indian Days were waiting after being flown in by the flying groom Brian Taylor. Wow, what a place. I couldn’t wait to see Lynsey but she had already gone out partying, she was going to be a handful but we were in the coolest city in the world. The racing at Sha Tin was spectacular with the best horses and jockeys from around the world coming together for one of the best meetings in the calendar. Indian Days ran ok but was outclassed in the Vase. The atmosphere for the build up of the Cup was electrifying. Snow Fairy was fancied but during the race she sat last which 9 times out of 10 didn’t work out well. Ryan Moore gave her a peach and she got up to win in the dying stages of the race. Everyone was buzzing especially Lynsey, what a filly, super filly. That night we went out in to Kowloon, I don’t remember much after that.
When we landed in Heathrow, it was nice to see most of the snow had gone. Lynsey and I went our separate ways not knowing when we’d see each other again, it was back to the grindstone. The pointers had been doing well and we had our first runner at Thorpe Lodge with Another Grand. He was by Statue Of Liberty and bread for the flat but he’d stayed well when I’d ridden him in Juvenile hurdles for David Chapman. The jockey broke his collarbone in the race before so our substitute Dale Peters rode him but had to do a stone overweight. He ran a good fourth and wasn’t beaten far. I invited Lynsey and her parents to the point to try and break the ice, things we’re going well apart from living miles apart. Another Grand followed up his good run to win his maiden, making all at Brocklesby Park beating a well fancied Tim Walford trained gelding. Our last runner of the year was the ex Jon Jo O’Neill trained Tommy Atkins who wasn’t the fastest in the world but just failed to win finishing a length down in third. Now the ground had dried up and the pointing was coming to the end. I had to think about my plans for the future.
I applied to numerous Newmarket yards for a position as an assistant trainer. Thankfully Luca Cumani answered that call and took me on for a couple of seasons. I moved in with Lynsey and our relationship developed quickly. Newmarket is the home of racing and a truly amazing place to work. There are horses everywhere and they rule supreme on the streets of the town. So I’d moved to Newmarket to work doing something I wasn’t overly interested in doing but training pointers is a seasonal occupation and I ultimately needed as much experience as I could get. I wasn’t doing the exciting things I had been doing but I was learning an awful. Having vets like Pete Ramzan and Mike Sheppard from Rossdales coming in every day was invaluable. My time soon came to an end at Cumani’s and went and I moved to Neil Kings for the rest of my time in Newmarket.
Lynsey and I married two years ago in St Lucia after a proposal and Christmas in New York. A year and a half ago we had two big decisions to make, when and where shall we start training and when shall we start a family. I was informed by the BHA that I had the necessary experience to start training so last June a pregnant lynsey and I applied for planning permission to build a barn at my parents on top of the Lincolnshire Wolds to hold twelve boxes. Cooper Williams was born on the 16th October and was 5 weeks premature at 7lb 10oz, he won’t be a jockey! In the November we gained the necessary planning permission to start building our barn. Over the last few months we have been working extremely hard to start the next phase of our lives. It’s been both our dreams to train eventually and now the time has come. The yard is now finished and our license is expected to come through next week. We have two horses in and more are on the way.
We have years of experience between us and now we have a great opportunity to train winners in the sport of kings. I’m extremely thankful to all the inspirational people I’ve met on the way and the way. Our dream starts here.